University of Basel

SIBA – A Visual Approach to Explore Everyday Life in Turkish and Yugoslav Cities, 1920s and 1930s


Alija M. Akšamija[Objects]

1919 (Rogatica, Bosnia) – 4 April 2016 (Sarajevo). Born into a baker's family, Alija Akšamija left his home town in 1937 to acquire the skill of photography. He found a photo studio in Sarajevo, ‘Foto Jović’, where his task was to keep the premises clean, but soon afterwards his father called him home. By pure chance, Alija made a lucky draw in the lottery. This enabled him, in 1938, to buy his first camera in Zagreb, where he had gone to participate in a ‘Soko’ manifestation. Back in Rogatica, he started to experiment, photographing his friends (women and elderly people declined the offer), and making short trips to Sarajevo where he began to work on his first series, 'Iz Sarajeva 1938–39'.

In January 1940, Alija was recruited into the army and sent to Banja Luka. During World War II, he was captured by the Germans and sent to the Doboj concentration camp. He succeeded in escaping. Back home, his mother informed him that his father had been murdered by Serbian chetniks. As the eldest son, it was now his duty to look after the family. Shortly afterwards, they were driven from Rogatica along with other Muslim families. Alija took only his camera – and photographed. In Sarajevo, he joined Tito's resistance movement and engaged in illegal activities. After the war, he declined the offer of a college position intended as a reward and succeeded in graduating in photography at a technical school in 1950 as an external student.

Back in Rogatica, he convinced the new administration to engage him as a state-employed photographer in a studio set up especially for his work. Alija continued to document local people and changes in Rogatica, as he had done in Sarajevo. After receiving his master diploma in photography in 1953, he left his home town again to open his own photo studio in Višegrad. His mother, brother and sisters remained in Rogatica. His wife Munira, born Branković, joined him in 1954, shortly before their first son Mehmed was born. She also worked as a photographer and their two sons Mehmed and Emir were to follow in their parents’ footsteps.

In Višegrad, the authorities commissioned Alija to document the reconstruction of the town and all official events. He engaged even more deeply in documenting the everyday life of his surroundings, developing his own original style of portrait photography. His opus represents a unique record of the people who populated provincial Bosnia in the socialist period – a work that is at once artistic and gives an account of their lives. His best-known photographs, however, are his three portraits of Nobel prizewinner Ivo Andrić at the Drina bridge in Višegrad. In the late 1980s, Alija moved to Sarajevo where he lived through a second war and the Serbian siege of the city. He died there on 4 April 2016, aged ninety-seven. Alija M. Akšamija won many national and international prizes. In 2008, he received the 'Lifetime achievement award in recognition of the highest standards in creative analogue and digital photography', awarded by the Association of Independent Professional Photographers of Europe. (NM)

Vladimir Benčić

1896 (Bjelovar, Slavonia, Habsburg Empire) – 1970 (Belgrade)

Vladimir Benčić came to Belgrade in the early 1920s with the help of his half-brother Milan Savić and worked as a press photographer for 'Nedeljne ilustracije' and in his brother's studio. In 1925, he opened his own studio, ‘Studio Benčić’, in Poenkarova Street (today Makedonska Street), and later in Kralj Milan Street next to the London Hotel. He also opened branches in Crikvenica and Dubrovnik. His sister Katica, owner of the ‘Photo Tempo’ studio in Terazije, was married to photographer Svetozar Grdijan. Benčić was highly respected as a board member of the Serbian Photographers' Association (‘Udruženje srbijanskih fotografa’) and as an official photographer at the royal court. His work focused on the court and the theatre, as well as on the urban development of Belgrade. He also produced postcards.

  • Škalamera, Željko (1983): Beogradske razglednice 1896–1941. Godišnjak grada Beograda XXX, 113–149.

Vojin M. Đorđević

Vojin Đorđević was foreign affairs editor at 'Politika' in 1922 and worked as a press photographer. He was the editor of commemorative photo albums documenting the death of King Aleksandar I in Marseille in 1934, the Serbian military cemetery near Thessaloniki, and the march of the Serbian army through Albania in the winter of 1915 to 1916.

  • Đorđević, Vojin M. (1935): Čuvajte Jugoslaviju! Spomen album. Belgrade: Grafopublik.
  • Đorđević, Vojin M. (1968): Kroz Albaniju 1915–1916: Spomen album prilikom pedesetogodišnjice probijanja Solunskog fronta. Beograd.
  • Đorđević, Vojin M. (1976): Srpsko vojničko groblje na Zejtinliku u Solunu. Spomen album. Beograd.

Selahattin Giz[Objects]

1914 (Thessaloniki) – 20 February 1994 (Istanbul)

The father of Selahattin Giz, Abdurrahman Bey, was a member of the Albanian Saraçzâdeler family from the town of Debar in contemporary Macedonia. The family moved to Istanbul after the Balkan Wars and settled in a mansion (yalı) in the Beylerbeyi area. Selahattin Giz took his first pictures while attending Galatasaray High School. He began to work for the 'Cumhuriyet' newsapaper in 1931 and in forty-one years of service, took thousands of photographs of social and political life. He was also fond of taking sport photographs and in addition was responsible for some iconic portraits of Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk). For a brief period (1948–1952), he formed the first Turkish press photo agency, 'Photo-Press’ (Basın Foto), together with Faik Şenol, Faruk Fenik, Cemal Göral and Müeddep Erkmen. Selahattin Giz left 'Cumhuriyet' in 1973. (JL)

  • Ak, Seyit Ali (2001): Erken Cumhuriyet Dönemi Türk Fotografi, 1923–1960. Istanbul: Remzi Kitabevi.
  • Özendes, Engin (1999): Photography in Turkey. Istanbul.
  • Pekşen, Yalçen (1973): Selahattin Giz ağabeyimiz emekliye ayrıldı. Cumhuriyet (13 February 1973), 5.

Namık Görgüç[Objects]

1895 (Istanbul) – 5 July 1947 (Istanbul)

Namık Görgüç was the son of Mücellidbaşızâde Nureddin Bey. The family owned a camera and Namık came into contact with photography already in childhood. He was soon to gain experience as an amateur photographer. After finishing Vefa High School, he served as an officer in World War I. On the recommendation of his relative and neighbour in the city’s Beylerbeyi district, journalist and publisher Yunus Nadi, Namık began to take photographs for Nadi’s newly founded newspaper 'Cumhuriyet'. Görgüç worked for the paper for the next twenty-four years, but also did freelance work for other publications such as the short-lived newspaper 'Yenigün' (1931) and the weekly 'Yedi Gün'. His younger colleague at Cumhuriyet, Selahattin Giz, described Namık Görgüç as his personal mentor, and in a broader sense, as the tutor of an entire generation of press photographers. (JL)

  • Ak, Seyit Ali (2001): Erken Cumhuriyet Dönemi Türk Fotografi, 1923–1960. Istanbul: Remzi Kitabevi.
  • Ak, Seyit Ali (1984): Namık Görgüç basınımızın fotoğraf ustalarındandı, Cumhuriyet (26 July 1984), 3.
  • Görgüç, Namık (1945): Fotoğrafta Meraklı Mevzular, Genç Amatörün Dergisi. Haziran 1945, 8.
  • Kavas, Uğur (2010): Türkiye’de Foto Muhabirliğini meslek dalı olarak kabul ettiren kişi, Namık Görgüç. Istanbul: Foto Muhabiri (December).
  • Kıymetli bir arkadaşı daha kaybettil, Cumhuriyet (8 July 1947), 1.
  • Namığın Cenazesi, Cumhuriyet (9 July 1947), 1.
  • Namığın hatıralar, Cumhuriyet (9 July 1947), 2.

Katarina-Katica Grdijan, born Benčić

Katarina Grdijan was the owner of the studio ‘Photo Tempo’ on Prestolonaslednikov Square 38 (Terazije). She was married to photographer Svetozar Grdijan, and was the sister of photographer Vladimir Benčić.

Svetozar Grdijan[Objects]

19 April 1897 (Virovitica, Slavonia, Habsburg Empire) – 3 July 1945 (Dachau).

Svetozar Grdijan was married to the sister of fellow photographer Vladimir Benčić, Katarina, who came from the same region in Slavonia as Grdijan himself. He worked as a photo reporter for 'Vreme' from the mid-1920s onwards. 'Vreme' publisher Dragomir Stojadinović was the brother of economist and politician Milan Stojadinović, who acted as the Prime Minister of Yugoslavia from June 1935 until February 1939. During that period, Grdijan accompanied the Prime Minister on his visits abroad, among others to a meeting with Hitler. During World War II, Grdijan worked for the newly established newspaper 'Novo Vreme', which was controlled by the government. He attracted suspicion as a Serb monarchist and was arrested several times by the German military administration. In summer 1944, he was sent to the Dachau concentration camp where he died of exhaustion in July 1945. His widow sold his estate to the Belgrade City Museum on 12 May 1970. It contained 11,000 negatives and positives mostly from the 1930s, which were inventoried and registered under the signature MGB I2/1 (numbers 1 to 9595).

  • Ćirić, Darko (2015): A Mirror of History. Images taken by Belgrade Photojournalists 1930–1941. Beograd: Muzej grada Beograda
  • Novaković, Bogdanka and Ljubinka Vuković (1982): Snimci beogradskih fotoreportera 1930–1934. Beograd: Muzej grada Beograda.
  • Novaković, Bogdanka and Ljubinka Vuković (1992): Snimci beogradskih fotoreportera 1935–1941. Beograd: Muzej grada Beograda.

Rista Marjanović

1885–1969, Tanjug

Rahamin-Raka Ruben

12 April 1903 (Priština) – 21 September 1950 (Zagreb).

Born in Priština to Hajim and Bonoza Ruben, Raka Ruben left his home town after World War I to train as a photographer, first arriving in Pirot where he lived with his brother, the town rabbi Šabitaj Ruben. He went on to Belgrade in 1918 where he opened his first photo studio in Mali Kalemegdan in 1922. Later, he moved to a location near Pozorišni Square (today Republic Square) to open his studio ‘Foto Ela’, named after his first-born daughter. When the building was demolished in the course of the reconstruction of the State Mortgage Bank (‘Uprava fondova’, from 1922 onwards 'Državna hipotekarna banka', today ‘Narodni muzej’) in 1930, he joined the daily newspaper 'Politika' to complete the photo team along with Jurij Usakovski and Aleksandar Aca Simić. In that year, 'Politika' covered the Pan-Soko Rally [Svesokolski slet]. Raka remained with 'Politika' until his early death.

Raka Ruben was married to Flora, born Koen (1904–1987), and had two daughters: Rahela Ela (1924–2004) and Bojana Buena (1927–1987). The family survived World War II thanks to a peasant family by the name of Bradić who hid them in their village in the Prokuplje region under a false identity after their attempt to flee Belgrade for Priština. Raka was one of the few Jewish survivors in Belgrade, and from December 1944 was involved in reorganizing the city’s Jewish community. He continued to work at 'Politika' as chief photo editor until his untimely death in a plane crash in Zagreb in 1950.

Aleksandar Aca Simić[Objects]

1898 (Belgrade) – 1971 (Belgrade).

Aleksandar Aca Simić was one of three permanent photo editors and reporters employed by the Belgrade daily 'Politika' in the interwar period. He joined the newspaper in 1923, after Jurij Usakovski (1921) and before Raka Ruben (1930). As a teenage boy, he had accompanied the retreat of the Serbian Army through Albania in the winter of 1915–16 and had been evacuated to Paris where he lived until 1923, studying architecture and design at the 'Ecole Nationale supérieure des arts décoratifs'. In 1923, he returned to Belgrade, enrolling at the Technical Faculty, Department of Architecture, where he graduated in the same year and joined 'Politika'. He stayed until 1941, and soon became a legend due to his excellent skills. He was the only photojournalist in Belgrade to own a motorcycle with a sidecar, celebrating the art of the speedy reporter. He not only documented official events, but also everyday life and people in the city. He signed, titled and numbered his glass plates in characteristic handwriting and established the 'Politika' style of photo documentation, which is still in use today. He also worked for 'Ilustrovani List', 'Komedija' and 'Sport'. His professional equipment during that period consisted of a Contessa-Nettel travel camera (‘Reisekamera’) of German origin (1926: negative dim 9x12 cm; 1929: negative dim 6,5 x 9 cm) with a Tessar lens, but he also probably used a LEICA camera.

During German military administration, Simić accepted a job with 'Novo Vreme', a daily close to the government, until 1942. After the war, this brought him into difficulty with the Tito regime, which accused him of collaboration. He photographed for a range of journals until 1952, when he was fully rehabilitated and appointed chief photo editor of the Communist Party daily, 'Borba' (Fight). In 1954, Simić became a member of the Association of Visual Artists of Applied Arts of Serbia (‘Udruženje likovnih umetnika primenjene umetnosti Srbije’, ULUPUS). He was awarded various national and international prizes for his work. (NM, MM).

  • Ćirić, Darko (2012): Gradski Nomad. Beogradski zapisi fotoreportera Aleksandra Ace Simića. Beograd: Muzej grada Beograda.
  • Milosavljević, Predrag (2004): Foto-Vremeplov, Kako je 'Politika' videla dvadeseti vek (1904–1941). I knjiga. Beograd: Politika AD.

Milan Šimić

Milan Šimić was a court photographer and the owner of the Belgrade photo studio ‘Ateljer Milan Šimić’. He sold photographs to ‘Politika’ up to 1926.

Jeremija Stanojević

5 October 1881 (Karlsruhe) – 6 September 1950 (Belgrade)

Jeremija Stanojević was a Yugoslav Army officer and photographed Belgrade street scenes.

  • Đurić-Zamolo, Divna (1975): Beograd 1930 na fotografijama Jeremije Stanojevića. Beograd: Muzej grada Beograda.

Jurij Usakovski

1889 (Novočerkask, Russia) – ?

Jurij Usakovski (French: Georges Ussakowsky; Serbian: Đorđe Usakovski) came to Belgrade as a refugee. He joined 'Politika' in 1921 as the newspaper's first professional photojournalist, fourteen years after it published its first photograph. Before, Usakovski had worked for the Belgrade daily 'Pravda'. Usakovski's preferred sphere of action was the laboratory. He was also noted as a gifted portraitist, focusing on theatre actors in Belgrade between 1925 and 1941. He also photographed his colleague Raka Ruben's two daughters posing as ‘living letters’ for the children's section of 'Politika'.

Apart from a wedding announcement published in 'Politika' on 6 March 1940, informing of his marriage to Marija Petriševac, nothing is known about Usakovski's private life. His traces are lost after the German attack on Yugoslavia in April 1941. The last camera he used was an Ica Bébé 40/2 4.5x6, Tessar lens 19x4.5 Karl Zeiss – Jena.

  • Malić, Goran (2002): Istorija fotografije: Ruski fotografi u Jugoslaviji. Refoto 14, 56-57.
  • Milosavljević, Predrag (2004): Foto-Vremeplov, Kako je 'Politika' videla dvadeseti vek (1904–1941). I knjiga. Beograd: Politika AD.

Jean Weinberg[Objects]

Jean Weinberg, of Romanian Jewish origin, was an influential photographer of the early Republic of Turkey. He owned a studio in 150, Grand Rue de Péra, Istanbul, which in the mid-twenties, he advertised as 'Photo Français, fournisseur Officiel du Corps Diplomatique, Collaborateur des Journaux Times London, l'Illustration Paris, New-York Times, Die Woche, et Illustrierte Zeitung Berlin'. He was also active as a press photographer and often worked on his own initiative. In 1923, shortly before the declaration of the Republic, he went to Ankara to take a picture of Mustafa Kemal, 'the biggest genius of modern times', and waited 45 days in order to get his picture. In the following years, he took some of the most influential and widely used photographs of Mustafa Kemal, among others the portrait for the passport which introduced the name Atatürk as Mustafa Kemal's family name. After the parliament act of 1932, which prohibited foreigners from working as photographers, Jean Weinberg left for Egypt where he eventually opened a new studio.

  • Weinberg, Jean (1933): Gazi'nin Eseri. L'oeuvre du Gazi. Istanbul.